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The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared

The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared
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The Newton family was camping at Coburn Gorge in northern Maine over Labor Day weekend in 1975 when Kurt, age 4, disappeared. What followed has been termed “the most extensive woods search in the history of Maine.” But all the thousands of volunteer searchers ever found were unanswered questions.

Excerpt from “’The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared,” Yankee Magazine, September 1979.

Kurt Newton
The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared | Yankee Magazine, September, 1979

Even now, four years later, Ron and Jill Newton will sometimes let their minds drift back and silently relive that Labor Day weekend, hour by hour, trying to snatch it all back and hold it still at 10:00 A.M. Sunday, August 31, 1975.

It had been a grand weekend, camping with their children, Kimberly, age six, and Kurt, age four, and three other families from their home in Manchester, Maine. Natanis Point Campground was small and remote, its fifty-eight sites cut from a paper-company forest 1,300 feet above sea level in Chain of Ponds, a wilderness township six miles below the Canadian border at Coburn Gore. Campers fished from two ponds that were deep and cold. When a fisherman landed a salmon from the small wooden bridge below the thread of beach, he would yelp with pleasure and a crowd would gather. Mountains loomed over the ponds, and when at night a loon wailed and the forest pressed close on all sides, you knew you were away.

That Friday the Newtons arrived first. It was their first trip with the recently acquired secondhand tent trailer, what Jill called “our luxury.” They gathered wood along an abandoned logging road nearly a mile from their campsite. “It isn’t camping without a bonfire,” Kurt said happily. On Saturday their friends arrived, and Kimberly raced her bicycle through mud puddles while Kurt furiously pedaled his big-wheel tricycle after her, trying to keep up. It was the end of a summer, and there were huge meals and laughter and quiet, chilly nights by a roaring fire. To Jill Newton things felt “just right,” which was not unusual.

“We’d been married eight years,” she would say later, “and everything just seemed to work right. We got along so well. We had saved for four years to buy a house, and when we were ready, there was our house across the street from the elementary school. From before we were married we always said we’d have two children and no more. We had a girl and then by a stroke of luck we had a boy, just what we wanted. It became a sort of joke between Ron and me. We’d say, ‘How did we get so lucky? ”

Sunday broke with a heavy mist over the ponds. Ron took the bite off the morning, using the last of the wood to light a fire. Kurt slept until nine, fighting off a cold; when he awoke he shivered. “I’m so glad Daddy built a bonfire,” he said. Ron dressed Kurt for the damp, chilly morning: red jersey, navy blue sweatshirt, speckled red and black corduroys. Kurt tugged on dark brown shoes over mismatched white socks and topped off his outfit with a favorite navy blue jacket decorated with baseball emblems.

Jill called Kurt “a head-turner,” a striking child with an impish sweet face, bright blue eyes, and platinum blond hair. “The loveliest, sweetest towhead kid you ever saw,” said a neighbor. Though he was rugged, Jill I worried that Kurt was “tied to my apron strings.” He was painfully shy and afraid of being alone, even for a few moments. “Sometimes when grocery shopping, I’d walk around the corner and he’d stand there, and I’d come back and find him almost in tears,” Jill said. “I could put him outside to play all day and he would never leave. He always made sure I knew where he was.”

Kimberly would often spring into the shallow woods behind their house and implore her brother to join her climbing the trees or playing hide-and-seek. As Kurt quivered on the edge of the lawn, she would tease, “Kurt’s such a baby.” Once Jill asked him why he wouldn’t go with Kimberly into the woods. “Momma, there’s monsters in there,” he answered.

After a hearty camper’s breakfast — fried potatoes, ham and eggs, toast, and juice — Kurt put a doughnut on a stick and warmed it over the flames, then threw the paper plates into the fire. Jill gathered the mud-soaked sneakers from the day before and with her friends walked to the bathhouse fifty yards away to wash them. Kim began playing a game and assumed Kurt would ride his tricycle around the campsite. Ron climbed into his Bronco, ax in hand, and drove off to get firewood. This is where their minds halt, confused and troubled, where Ron and Jill Newton try to snatch it all back. For then a friend from her trailer heard a plaintive “Daddy, Daddy,” as Kurt apparently ran to his tricycle, a determined little boy trying to catch his father, and pedaled away — into a mystery as deep as the forest that seemed to swallow him without a trace.

From the campground, a rut-strewn logging road runs north, parting the forest, which gives way reluctantly. An abandoned horse hovel sits back from the road, nearly obscured by undergrowth, about a quarter-mile from the Newtons’ campsite. Here, twelve-year-old Lou Ellen Hanson, returning from a walk, was startled to see the small boy churning past on his tricycle. “Hey,” she called out, “do your parents know where you are?’ but the boy made no reply as he pedaled on, and she turned toward the campground.

The road continues another quarter-mile, then forks. To the left it leads to a small campground dump on a knoll, past a shaky bridge over a stream. To the right it continues for a mile, then gives way to heavy undergrowth. For the next several miles leading to Route 27 the road is nearly impassable to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles. The road and its “back-door” access to his campground was a source of irritation to campground owner Lloyd Davidson. Fishermen would use it to fish his waters, or to use his showers. He would grumble that if it were his land and not leased from the paper company, he would have bulldozed it long ago. It was on this road, about a half-mile past the fork, where Ron Newton went to chop wood, the sounds of his ax barely audible from the dump.

Jack Hanson, Lou Ellen’s father, who served as a volunteer caretaker for the campground, found the tricycle just before the steep rise leading to the dump. It was off the road, at the edge of the woods, a position that reminded a state police investigator “of a little boy who’s been told never to leave his things on the road.” Thinking it had been discarded, Hanson carried it over the rise and heaved it atop the trash heap, then drove back to the campground.

“We hung the sneakers on the line,” Jill Newton recalls. “We’d been gone at the most ten minutes. We saw no Kurt and no tricycle, so we started walking around asking campers if they’d seen a blond boy on a big-wheel tricycle. I began to think he must have gone with the men to get firewood, but then they rounded the comer and no Kurt. We met Jack, and he told us he had found the trike at the dump. We raced to the dump, and there was Kurt’s big-wheeler, but no one in sight, not a sound to be heard.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Mel Allen


Mel Allen


Mel is the fifth editor of Yankee Magazine since its beginning in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. Mel teaches magazine writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son. His column, “Here in New England,” is a 2012 National City and Regional Magazine Awards Finalist for the category Column.
Updated Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

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10 Responses to The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared

  1. Robin Bailey December 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    I became interested in this case, last year, after reading, “The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared” in an old 1979 Yankee Magazine and did an internet search to see if this case had been solved.
    I had hoped that Kurt had been found safe and returned to his family.
    Having come across the old magazine again while cleaning, I once again did another search to see if anything new had come to light concerning this child’s case.
    I wonder if anyone might have done a computer aging on Kurt, updating his appearance to what would be his current adult age and distributing it or perhaps publishing it in the newspaper where he grew up. I suppose I like to believe in miracles, even at this late date. Perhaps he would see the picture, read the story, and be reunited with his family. Such stories have happened before.
    Kurt’s story still haunts my heart when I read it and see his photo. I hope that he is alive, mentally and emotionally well and that God guides him back to where he belongs.

  2. Barb April 23, 2015 at 7:42 am #

    This case fits all the criteria for Missing 411, many go missing in the forest without any trace. He was wearing red, dogs could not track him, no signs of a struggle ect. David Paulides wrote many books on tgis subjec, as an ex police officer David became interested in learning more after a Forest ranger told David about all the missing people from our National forests & remote campgrounds. So sad for all the families left to wonder what happened to their loved ones, leaving them heartbroken for the rest of their lives. Research David Paulides Missing 411 Eastern United States.

    • Veronica June 17, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

      I read this story and thought the exact same thing – Missing 411. What a tragedy for this family.

    • Dave June 18, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

      Doesn’t David Paulides eventually blame BigFoot? He comes across as a someone looking for attention.

  3. Karen Bessey Pease April 23, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    This case still haunts my father, who was a Maine State Game Warden based in Kingfield in 1975. For many days, he was gone from sun-up til sun-down as the search for this little boy took place. Dad had a four year old daughter at that time (my little sister Peg) and 3 other children at home. I’d never seen him show such angst and emotion as he did during those days of searching. There can’t be much worse for a parent than not knowing…

  4. linda woodcock April 23, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    I was at home in Salem and went up and spent 2 days fixing food for the searchers. Very very sad time!!!

  5. Penny Gray April 23, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    My father was a Maine guide who had a camp east of Kibby and he was haunted by this tragic event; we camped and fished at Natanis when I was young and I would look into the woods and shiver, thinking about that boy and wondering what happened to him. What an agonizing story.

  6. Alison Latham June 18, 2015 at 1:23 am #

    I had heard about Little Kurt going missing over the years,but this is the first time i have read The Day Kurt Newton Disappeared. This may sound daft or even ridiculous,but i feel bereft..the word agonizing is a very apt word…i find it difficult to look at the picture of Kurt…i feel a need to know what happened to him..someone knows…someone knows what happened that day..the ache that those 2 parents must feel is beyond comprehension..

  7. Robin Williams September 9, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    I’ve always been very interested in Kurt. My brother was one of the searchers. I was 16 at the time and have followed it forever. I would like to say to his parents, should they ever see this, that I hope someday I can learn to be as strong as you. And to Robin Bailey, who it says left a comment in 2009, I believe in the ’80’s they did a computer composite of what Kurt would look like then with no luck. I wish his parents and his sister much comfort.

  8. Leslie Worthy April 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    How terribly sad this story is. I am so sorry this happened to this family. Wonderfully written and handled with the utmost respect for the family.

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